Pictured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup Meal-Prep Freezer Pack
The slow cooker is the reigning king of convenience. In the morning, you chop up some veggies, add a protein (or not), throw it all in your slow cooker and press start. And voilà! After a long, busy day, dinner is ready.
Well, we're about to make it even easier. You can skip the morning chopping and just go straight to pressing the start button. (Who wants to chop onions and drink coffee at the same time, anyway?) How? By making a slow-cooker freezer pack! Full disclosure: You're not actually skipping the chopping and prepping, just moving it to a time that's more convenient—like the weekend or an evening after the kids are asleep. Hello, Meal-Prep Sunday!
We created this warming Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup with the freezer in mind, but you can make virtually any slow-cooker recipe work as long as you follow a few simple meal-prep guidelines.
Related: Our Best Healthy Slow-Cooker Recipes
Think of this as the investment stage of the process. Here, you are simply chopping and getting your ingredients ready to cook, except they're going to hit the freezer first. You can do all of the prep for these chicken noodle soup freezer packs in under 30 minutes, which makes it a great quick project to hammer out during nap time, a quiet Sunday afternoon or even at night after the kids have gone to bed.
• Consistency is key. Cut your vegetables and meat roughly the same size if they are cooking for the same length of time. We chopped all the veggies in the chicken noodle soup on the small side for easy eating later.
• Cool it off. Does your recipe call for stove-top cooking before adding to the slow cooker? You can do this step in advance, just make sure your ingredients are cooled off completely before packing and freezing.
Once all of your ingredients are prepped, it's time to bag them up. You may need to freeze your meal in more than one bag depending on the recipe. If ingredients go into the slow cooker together, pack them up in the same bag. But if some ingredients are added later, you'll want to pack them up in a separate bag.
For our chicken noodle soup, we bagged the chicken, onion, carrot and celery together since they all go in the slow cooker at the same time. The peas are added toward the end, so they have their own bag. Same with the pasta.
Once frozen, slow-cooker freezer packs can be stored for up to three months.
• To freeze or not to freeze? Our chicken noodle soup calls for low-sodium chicken broth, which comes in a box, so we opted to keep that out of the freezer. If your recipe calls for liquid other than boxed broth, you can freeze that too. We would recommend freezing it in a separate container for easier storage. Garnishes like fresh herbs or little dashes of lemon juice are best added fresh toward the end of cooking for maximum impact.
• Label your bags clearly. Include what ingredients are in the bag and use-by date (three months from packing date). If cooking instructions are short, also note them on the bag. Or just write down the recipe name on the bag, so that you don't have to jog your memory for directions when you go to cook with it a few weeks later.
• Try a vacuum sealer. To get a little more life out of your slow-cooker soup packs, try sealing them with a vacuum sealer. These handy appliances remove air from the bag, slowing the formation of ice crystals on your food which could eventually degrade the texture.
So you're ready to cook your easiest meal ever! Although it would be nice to just dump your frozen slow-cooker meal directly into your slow cooker, resist the urge! Putting frozen ingredients into the slow cooker and pressing the start button exposes your food to too much time in the "danger zone" (between the temperatures of 40 and 140°F where bacteria is most likely to flourish). You'll have to thaw your meal first. You can do this with a little planning by thawing your freezer pack in the fridge for a day before you plan to cook it. Then, follow the cooking instructions on the recipe as you would normally do.
• Set a reminder. If you're worried you might forget to thaw out your freezer pack ahead of time, set a reminder in your phone for the day before you need it.
• Need to thaw your freezer pack faster? If you want to thaw your ingredients faster, submerge the bags in a bowl of water and change the water every 30 minutes or so.
Are you inspired to turn your favorite slow-cooker recipes into meal-prep wonders? Grab some freezer bags, get your slow cooker ready and you'll be well on your way to some seriously effortless meals.